tv [untitled] April 29, 2012 8:30pm-9:00pm EDT
i loved them all. but my life is perfect as it is. >> that is so healthy. >> nobody ever said i was unhealthy. i really think you can't miss -- she says the chef was nays. but -- you just go on to other things. we have been so lucky. all the bushes have been lucky. life has been -- i mean, these libraries and these -- whatever center you call your thing, anyway -- it is not a library. but the -- the people all come back. it is just -- we are very lucky. we know it. there are people that are hungry and people that are homeless. people that can't read. and, you know if you know somebody who is lonely, go see them. i mean, there's just a lot of things we can do because -- we can read.
we are certainly well fed. we have lots of people we love. i love my in-laws. i have two here. perfect. i mane, look at them. we are lucky. >> you know, i think nothing could say better when you ask the question would people run for public office. the experience of both of you and your family and the dignity with which you carry both the offices and the time afterward suggests that it may be a tough vocation but it may be one of the best vocations in the world. politics still and has to be one of the most honorable vocations there are. we have to reach a time in this country again when our best people will be able to know what you two experienced. i mean, i know from reading your memoirs and listening to you today, however difficult there might have been moments in time, everything was overshadowed by making a difference, by the excitement of being there, and the love of the families being together during it. i am so glad to have been able to share this with you. and you are both very much alive. >> thank you so much. >> thank you for having us. >> thank you to everybody.
thank you so much. thank you. you are watching american history tv. where every week we feature the lives and legacies of the presidents and first ladies of the united states. sundays at 8:30 a.m., 7:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m. eastern on c-span 3. robert mcnamara served under presidents kennedy and johnson. next, a discussion of his leadership and the vietnam war. panelists include former defense secretary and the author of mcnamara. 1956-1969. this is about an hour and a half. >> for millions of americans the vietnam war was the defining event in their lives, whether
they served in uniform or took part in debate over the war at home. today it serves as a watershed period in our history, the same way world war ii did for previous generations. this -- panel discussion this afternoon is of particular interest of me to since i was a hospital stationed with the first marine division for sixth months and then on the "us "uss sanctuary." i was stationed with the first so it is my pleasure now to turn the program over to john hoffman, deputy chief historian to the secretary of defense. he's on active duty and infantry office in field historian for 17 years. in his civilian career he served as deputy director of the museum division, chief of the army center for military history's contemporary studies branch and became deputy chief historian of
the osd historical office in 2010. please welcome john hoffman. [ applause ] >> thank you for hosting us today at this wonderful venue. if you read the program, you saw that my boss was actually supposed to be here speaking, but she was called in for a big event at the last minute. i said, i'll job in there as an aide for you. you don't have to do that. she said, no, no, no. i don't want to have to make you go on one of those transatlantic dead eye flights. so here i am today. i am very happy to be here today. it is a great cole april ration. we actually have a third partner here today in hosting this event.
that is the texas tech vietnam center represented by steve maxner who will get introduced a little bit more fully later. before we get started i want to thank a couple of people that put this together. tom and quinn brewster of the national archives. dr. john carwin, second to the right, who represents our office. i'll begin with my very brief remarks with a quote from robert mcnamara from 1964. i don't object to vietnam being called mcnamara's war. i think it is a very important war and i am pleased to be identified with it and do whatever i can to win it it was very important war. he was not able to win the war but his reputation has become tied over the years. very closely to the u.s. failure in that conflict. it is part of the ongoing
secretary of defense historical series put out by our office. it focus owes the roles of the secretaries and office of the secretary of defense in developing and executing national defense policy. it is a sequel to mcnamara 1961 to 1965. we have the next four books in the series under way. various stages of progress. neil will take us through weinberger's tenure in the early 1980s. our goal has been to produce well-researched, balanced, objectives will stand the test of time. it will serve hopefully as useful information for current policy makers and finally inform the american public. we believe that ed's book is a great addition to this series. and although its focus is vietnam, he covers a lot of
other important topics from dominican crisis in 196 5 to the six-day war in the middle east in 1967. and to the wider impact of vietnam on u.s. national defense posture. we hope we put together a program that's equal to this topic. john carland will serve it is a moderator. he an historian who worked for 17 years for the u.s. army center of military history writing their seminole volume on 1965 and 1966 in vietnam. he spent another decade of hard labor at the foreign relations series of the united states. and state department, and doing their two books on the end of the vietnam war. semi retired now and works part time for us doing special projects like this. two of our presenters are dr. ed dray, the author. dr. george herring, one of the foremost historians on the vietnam war. john will introduce both of them more fully later on. the final member of our panel, your first speaker, former
secretary of defense harold brown. at the age of 21, phd in fist friction columbia university. he served as research scientist and then as senior science and research manager for the government. in 1965, he became secretary of the air force where he worked closely with mcnamara. leaving government in 1969, returned in 1977 as president jimmy carter's secretary of defense. since 1981, he has been deeply involved in researching, speaking, writing on national security policy. we are grateful to have him leading off our panel today and look forward to hearing his personal perspective of secretary mcnamara's tenure. >> thank you very much. it is good to be with you this afternoon.
i look forward to reading the current volume in the history of the office of the secretary of defense series. it may prepare me for what the third and future says about me. if i live long enough to read that. when mcnamara left office in january of 1969, the members of his staff and service secretaries presented him with a large globe, and during a presentation, the citations we prepared said to the outstanding public servant of our time, and i think that correctly describes the first four years of bob mcnamara's service as secretary of defense.
the next three were a tragedy. you might say a shakespearean tragedy. tragedy for him as well as for president johnson and most of all, most important, for the country. in the -- during those first four years, bob mcnamara revolutionized the department of defense and by setting up a process for planning, programming, budgeting, as it was then called, he produced an example that other parts of the government have since tried with varying degrees of success to
emulate. to rationalize the processes of governing and budgeting. like all such attempts, they abandoned by the limitations of human nature in general and of government in particular. but then the department of defense at least persisted and i think made it much more efficient and effective than it otherwise would be. that approach was possible because of the centralization of power in the office of the secretary of defense that president eisenhower had pushed
so hard for and succeeded in getting through the defense reorganization act of 1958. but it took someone like mcnamara and some of the people he brought in with him to turn that into an effective operating system. the second term, three years, 1965, and '67, '66, '67, and -- the vietnam years, are a lesson in the limits of quantitative thinking. especially when the underlying situation is unwinnable. the end of the vietnam war is viewed in different ways by different people. my friends, henry kissinger, jim schlessinger, said the war was
actually won. but the congress by cutting off aid to the south vietnamese doomed what had been a success to failure. this is sort of a -- approach, the term stab in the back that the germans used between the two wars to describe what had happened to german military in world war i. but at the same time, henry kissinger is on record as having said at one point in process, let's at least have a decent interval before we collapse -- before they collapse. so vietnam war in retrospect was unwinnable because of the nature of vietnamese society and south vietnamese government. my own introduction to bob mcnamara happened in february of 1961. i had known packard as
department secretary briefly because we had been on a board together. and he offered me the job when i first walked into his office. i said gee, i'm not really ready for that right now. he said, well, you have to take things when they are offered or maybe -- maybe they won't come back to you again. i took that lesson. at the beginning, i think hay saw me as an engineer and looked instead to his systems analysis group with whom he felt an empathy because he had been an operations analyst during world war ii. as a consequence of
considerations early on of the nike system and the whole issue of mutual deterrence, he -- turned to the office i ran as part of the office of secretary of defense that -- office of director of defense research and engineering, to play a bigger role in programmed decisions. early on, mcnamara was still learning about issues of grand strategy. for example, i guess early in 1961, he had espoused the idea of limitation, nato speech in athens, that somehow you could
have a nuclear war and damage limit, limited damage on both sides. he learned fairly quickly, however, that once you went down that road, two things would happen. first of all, there was no limit to the amount of money you would spend in trying to -- the damage. second, it wouldn't work. the damage would not, in fact, be limited. and so he made a later speech at ann arbor and explaining that we instead should move to mutual assured destruction as a way of deterring the other side. we would be deterred as well from engaging in our nuclear war.
that had the unfortunate acronym m.a.d. but proved to be sane instead. bob was highly organized. he used to look at written material and preferred written material to can briefings. he would write on them in his barely legible left-handed scrawl, but those of us who worked with him gradually came to be able to decipher those and they always made a lot of sense. so much so that i subsequently myself adopted that same approach of inside and outside the defense department of taking written material, scrawling comments on it, and sending it back. i think that bob had planned to stay only four years. and that reinforced his natural tendency to be -- to limit socialization. he made a mistake, i think, and admitted it to me afterwards by
not speaking at any of the military academy, graduation commissioning ceremonies. and he said part of the reason was that he had only planned to stay for four years and he felt it was not worth that time if he had known he would stay longer. and it would have improved his relationships with some of the uniformed military, he would have behaved differently. i saw him at least weekly in a formal way through my own service, as detectivor of defense research and engineering and air force secretary. and he came through as a decisive executive at work. but on social occasions, he was actually quite different. i remember an evening in which -- he was very unassumed. not -- hard driving automobile executive that he had been at ford or displayed on the job at
the defense department. i remember an evening when he took us to the -- took my -- he and marge, his wife, took me and my wife to the arena theater. and he drove his own car. i can't imagine that happening today. not only because people are different but because the times and circumstances are very different. in private, he was sometimes emotional. that didn't spill out publicly until well into the vietnam war. most famously, of course, at the ceremony at the white house in january of 1968 when president johnson awarded him a medal.
when he was explaining that position which you could by what he did that he didn't and had not been his original position, he would speak louter and lean forward and pull his socks up. that was a sign that that was not his choice, but he was loyal to it. that loyalty also appeared in the way he described the budgeting process, but what he said was that there is no set
limit on the budget. he had an agreement with the president that the strategy and the program would be set and the budget would be whatever that cost at the most efficient level. of course when you say at the most efficient level, that's a big loophole. increasingly it became clear that the budgetary restrictions did exist after vietnam heated up and drew lots of immense costs and funding away from the rest of the program. that mara was good at cultivating people and how successful depens upon what you think of those who he
cultivated. he groomed me and others for higher office later on. vance who started as general council became successively army secretary. deputy defense secretary and later on secretary of state. paul went through a similar process and so did i. i would like to say a few things just briefly about vietnam. those who come after me will be addressing more directly. bob became skeptical of the vietnam war well before he stopped saying how great it was going. one thing that i remember is from early on, he was very
dubious about reports from the field even though he insisted on quantifying them and encouraging the systems analysis to quantify what in the end was not really quantifiable. he turned to the cia, for example, for separate inputs into what the situation was and increasingly he believed those. he tried to find other ways to limit the war and to make it more successful. one notable example was the mcnamara line which was an attempt to set up sensors along what became known as the ho chi minn trail to pinpoint where the north 98 nam ease infiltrators was coming from. so they could be attacked.
they set up a special organization to do that and in the end, it didn't work. i have since speculated that with the capabilities we now have and did not then have, how much better that would have worked. there two problems with it. even now. is that generals are not as easy penetratable as deserts are and the other is that the big problem was not only the vietcong in the south and the infiltration and in the end invasion by the north viet yam ease, it was the weakness and corruption of the south viet yam
ease government. as the vietnam war went on, they had less and less time for other matters. the decision and so the decisions were often passed down to the deputy secretary of defense and they didn't have quite the same quality. my conclusion for all of this is four years is long enough. there is an old saying that for a secretary of defense friends come and go and enemies accumulate. when they accumulate enough, your effectiveness goes down. more over, as time goes by, you come to think you have seen it all and you mistake your famili familiarity with wisdom.
it's hard to rethink things and clean up your own mess. mcnamara. secretary of defense in the first four years and the last three were a tragedy. i have very little to say about clark clifford on the secretary for a year. he devoted himself almost entirely to vietnam and left the running of the department to paul who was then his deputy who was the secretary of defense. clark was a very able advocate and had all the talents of an actor. both in appearance and his ability at presentation and he did help lyndon johnson start to
get out of the war. thank you. >> thank you, doctor brown for contextualizing the vietnam war. this sets a nice base line for the next two speakers. my task is to introduce the speakers. this is an easy task for me because they are two of the ablest trackticianers of the historical craft today. first, george, george herring had a virginia ph.d. and taught almost four decades at the university of kentucky. there he mentored many thesis
and his students teach history and the history of the vietnam war. george also served in the best journal doing diplomatic history and he also served as president of the society for the american foreign relations. he made his greatest contribution at least in my judgment as a scholar. among his books sold half a million copies and the basic text that hundreds of under graduates have stormed their view of the vietnam war. his study of the entire history of american foreign relations called the super power of american foreig